Culture

A Romance land open to the Germanic world; Wallonia has always been a particularly fertile arena for artistic expression. Standing at a crossroads of influences, over the centuries and in many fields, its children have produced master works, the fame of which have transcended its borders.

Music

Guillaume Dufay, Miniature extraite de Martin le Franc, Champion des Dames, Arras 1451 – Paris, Bibliothèque nationale © GFDL

Guillaume Dufay

Born in Liège in around 1370, Johannes Ciconia is considered the Walloon country's first great composer. He literally enchanted Italy, paving the way in the 15th century for masters like Guillaume Dufay and especially Josquin dès Prés, who even at that time was deemed the "Prince of music" by his contemporaries.

The 16th century was the times of the Mons-born composer Roland de Lassus, whose international career made him a celebrity throughout Europe. The 17th century saw the emergence of the talent of Henri Dumont, a teacher then composer at the Chapel of King Louis XIV, who established himself as Lully's equal in religious music. In the 18th century, the violinist François-Joseph Gossec was the originator of instrumental music in France. A bard of Revolutionary ideas, he composed an especially remarkable Messe des Morts. A few years later, the Liègios André-Modeste Grétry triumphed in Paris and throughout the Empire with his operas and comic operas.

The 19th century heralded a musical revival, symbolised in particular by the famous invention of Dinant's Adolphe Sax: the saxophone. Many virtuoso musicians have been trained in Wallonia, including the violinists Henri Vieuxtemps and Eugène Ysaÿe, who based his reputation on the international competition today known as the "Queen Elizabeth".

Also virtuosos, the pianist César Franck and violinist Guillaume Lekeu established themselves as the greatest Walloon composers of the 19th century. This rich tradition continued in the 20th century with Joseph Jongen, Arthur Grumiaux and André Souris the composer, conductor and theorist similar to the surrealists, who is still one of the most important musicians of the modern and even avant-garde schools.

Arthur Grumiaux (s.d.) – Photo RTBF

Arthur Grumiaux

After the Second World War, musical influences diversified. Thus, the organist Henri Pousseur, appointed as head of the Liège Conservatoire, promoted the expression of jazz, electro-acoustic music and improvisation. Many musical institutions were established such as Musiques Nouvelles, the Wallonia Royal Opera, the Royal Chamber Orchestra of Wallonia in Mons, the Centre d’Art vocal et de Musique ancienne in Namur and the production house Musique en Walloniewhich aims to revive the quality Walloon musical heritage absent from the recording repertoire.

Adamo Salvatore Adamo

Furthermore, Wallonia has also been a productive place for variety artists: from the internationally famous Salvatore Adamo to Frédéric François, including Sœur Sourire, whose song Dominique topped sales in the United States or Sandra Kim, the only Walloon singer to have won the Eurovision Song Contest. Today, Walloon artists such as Mélanie De Biasio continue to promote the voices and colours of Wallonia.


Film

Le Fantascope de Robertson © Institut Destrée - Diffusion Sofam

Fantascope of Robertson

Well before the Lumière brothers, several Walloons contributed to the development of the audiovisual arts. At the end of the 18th century, the Liège-born Robertson lodged a patent for a magic lantern and produced it throughout Europe. Trained in Liège, the physicist Joseph Plateau developed the first device to create the illusion of movement in 1832. As for Henri Désiré Dumont from Mons, he invented devices, which have since disappeared, creating the dual illusion of relief and movement and submitted several patents emulating chronophotography.

Despite these pioneers, cinema in Wallonia long-remained the domain of external directors. It was only from the 1970s that personalities such as Jean-Jacques Andrien or Manu Bonmariage made their first films, inspired by social reality and keen to tackle social subject from a personal angle. In doing so, they opened a vein that would prove to be particularly rich.

Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne Luc et Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Continuing on this path, the brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne present a characteristically realistic world which is experiencing increasing international success. The Palme d’Or collected in 1999 for Rosetta, which would be corroborated by that awarded in 2005 for L'Enfant, revealed a Walloon film industry which is truly blooming, also supported by actors such as Émilie Dequenne, Cécile de France, Marie Gillain and Olivier Gourmet. In a completely different style, with C’est arrivé près de chez vous [Man Bites Dog], Rémy Belvaux and Benoît Poelvoordeapproach comedy from an original and memorable perspective which has led to an impressive run of successes for Poelvoorde.

This creative excitement has also supported the development of a true cultural industry focused on image and film technologies, particularly through the creation of investment funds and thematic clusters.

Architecture

Architectural evidence of the Middle Ages is rare in Wallonia, but some traces dating back to the 5th and 6th century present common traits, marked by an extreme simplicity which identifies a Mosan school. In the 12th century, to the west of modern-day Wallonia, the Escaut basin developed at the instigation of Tournai, opening the door to the Gothic style. Tournai's Notre-Dame Cathedral is therefore held up as the most outstanding illustration of this transition between Roman and Gothic, two styles that would co-exist in the Walloon country for many centuries.

Portail de l’église Saint-Jacques de Liège, dessiné par Lambert Lombard - Wikipedia

Portal of the Saint-Jacob church of Liege

Not until the 16th century did the builders and architects of Wallonia, led by Lambert Lombard in Liège and Jacques du Broeucq in Mons, incorporate Italian and French influences. In the 18th century, architecture in Wallonia opened up to modernism and gradually adopted shapes from France, mainly in the urban centres and for religious buildings. Jean-Benoît Dewez, official architect for the Court of Charles of Lorraine, then shifted architecture towards neo-classicism which would govern much of the 19th century.

With the growth in the industrial revolution which prevailed in Wallonia, the number of factories increased, sometimes looking like veritable cathedrals or fortresses and giving rise to vast, original complexes, such as the Grand-Hornu or the company town of Bois-du-Luc. In the 20th century, the development of new neighbourhoods and reconstructions following the two world wars showcased English and French influences. However, Paul Jasparset himself apart by creating a modernist architecture influenced by the traditional Mosan architecture.

Le charbonnage du Grand-Hornu - http://www.cid-grand-hornu.be/

The coal mining of Grand-Hornu

These days, Walloons continue to make strong architectural gestures. Of course, this includes the new city of Louvain-la-Neuve, designed by Michel Woitrin and which combines modernity with the tradition of medieval university cities. The Walloon expertise is also reflected beyond its borders with agencies like Greisch which contributed, in particular, to the technical achievement of the Millau viaduct. Reciprocally, Wallonia confirms its openness to international design by welcoming prestigious projects such as railway stations by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the new Mons convention center (MICX) by Daniel Libeskind or the new Charleroi police station (the Blue Tower), designed by Jean Nouvel.

Silversmithing

Fragment du pommeau de l'épée de Childéric - Bibliothèque nationale de France. Cabinet des Médailles Fragment of the pommel of the sword of Childéric

Across the Walloon lands, the Celts already excelled in metal and wood working, as evidenced by objects found at burial sites. After Romanisation, the Franks and Carolingians developed their empire from our regions, attracting many exceptional craftsmen. The many jewelled treasures discovered in Childeric's tomb in Tournai are an illustration of this.

Copper work, practised in the early 11th century in the Meuse valley, fuelled an important tradition of liturgical silversmithing that is illustrated in particular on the baptismal font of Saint-Barthélemy Church in Liège. Mosan art, which was dominant from the 11th to 13th century, is illustrated, among others things, in silversmithing, with masterpieces such as the Stavelot Triptych, the Shrine of Our Lady at Tournai Cathedral and the Shrine of the Three Kings by Nicolas of Verdun, the remarkable treasures of Hugo d'Oignies, the Head Reliquary of Alexander Ist by Godefroy de Huy and even the Liège Crown presented by Saint Louis and the Arm Reliquary of Charlemagne created at the request of the Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. 

Sculpture

Long associated with religious representations, sculpture in the late Middle Ages in the Walloon country was marked by the introduction of new forms inspired by Antiquity. As in architecture, this "first Renaissance" which reconciled Gothic shapes with Italian influences, was characterised by the figures of Lambert Lombard and Jacques du Broeucqwhose creations would inspire artists for many centuries.

L'Espérance de Jacques Du Brœucq -  - Wikipedia

L'Espérance of Jacques Du Brœucq

In the late 12th century, Jean Del Cour popularised the baroque, also exemplified by Arnold de Hontoire. As for the sculptor and engraver Jean Varin, called to the court of the King of France by Richelieu, Voltaire wrote about him: "We have equalled the ancients in regard to medals. Warin was the first who raised this art from the mediocrity in which it stood, towards the close of the reign of Louis XIII."

After 1830, artists were asked to create depictions of major historical figures. The Liège artist Louis Jehotte, who was notably responsible for the equestrian monument to Charlemagne in Liège, would considerably influence this new school of sculpture. With figureheads such as the great realist sculptor Constantin Meunier, Léon Mignon and his Bull, or Victor Rousseau, who created the statues on the Pont de Fragnée, Walloon sculpture showed great vitality. This continues to the present day through artists such as Alphonse Darville from Charleroi, Pol Bury from La Louvière, Félix Rousseau from Dinant and Mady Andrien from Liège.

Painting

La Nativité par le Maître de Flémalle

La Nativité by the Master of Flémalle

Pictorial art in Wallonia began in the 15th century with Robert Campin, the Master of Flémalle, and his apprentice and collaborator from Tournai, Rogier de le Pasture, who specialised in tragic religious paintings. At the same time, the Dinant painter Joachim Patinier concentrated on the landscapes that became the true subjects of his paintings. In the 15th century, the Mosan Henri Blès, a forerunner of the landscape artists, provided the first depictions of metal working.

The family of Hemptinne, by François-Joseph Navez The Family of Hemptinne, by François-Joseph Navez

Over subsequent centuries, the Liègios Gérard Douffet and Gérard de Lairesse turned to classicism and chiaroscuro. At the end of the 18th century, industrial development presented new subjects for painters like Léonard Defrance, also similar to Liège and French revolutionary ideas. On another note, Pierre-Joseph Redouté nicknamed "the Raphael of flowers", brilliantly depicted botany, especially roses. 

Pornocratès by Félicien Rops © Musée Félicien Rops Pronocratès, by Félicien Rops

After the 1830 revolution, Louis Gallait and Barthélemy Vieillevoye contributed to the growth in Romanticism through their historical pictures. The main Walloon representative of this trend was however Antoine Wiertz from Dinant, who brilliantly illustrated a wide range of subjects through his portraits, genre painting, religious paintings, historical portraits, still lifes and landscapes. A student of David, the Charleroi native François-Joseph Navez embodied neo-classicism in Wallonia, winning fame particularly through his portraits. Among the other great Walloon painters, it is important to mention the impressionists Anna Boch and Richard Heintz, the realist Charles Groux and not forgetting the symbolist from Namur Félicien Ropswhose paintings, drawings and etchings showed the society of his time.

 Literature

In the 20th century, Walloon artists delivered highly personal art, sometimes difficult to classify. Nevertheless, Pierre Paulus and Anto Carte asserted themselves as genuine leaders in a Walloon expressionist trend, while Paul Delvaux and René Magritte became famous as international masters of surrealism.



 

 

La Cantilène de sainte Eulalie La Cantilène of sainte Eulalie

Romance land, Wallonia produced one of the very first literary texts in a vernacular language, the Cantilène de Sainte Eulalie, composed in around 880. Gradually, between Latin and the Romance language, a literature developed, whether such texts were of a religious or moral nature, legends, songs, medieval narratives or epic poems. Chroniclers like Jean Le Bel, Jean Froissart, Sigebert de Gembloux and Jean d’Outremeuse therefore provided much evidence as to the cultural wealth of the Middle Ages, as well as valuable information for a better understanding of this period of history in the Walloon country.

At the instigation of local princes, humanism gradually spread, encouraging a better distribution of knowledge. In 1643, the Jesuit hagiographer Jean Bolland published the first volumes of the Acta Sanctorum, a work which even today is sustained by the learned society to which he gave his name, the Bollandists. Alongside the scholarly and literary texts in Latin and French, Walloon letters slowly emerged from the 16th century, becoming established in the late 18th century.

The development of printing in the Walloon country contributed to the spread of Enlightenment thinking. In this context, Liège established itself as a centre for the circulation of new ideas between France and the Germanic countries.

After 1830, authors like Paul Heusy in the naturalist vein or Octave Pirmez with his works imbibed with melancholy expressed their talent, while in 1844, the Namur writer François-Joseph Grandgagnage created the term "Wallonia". The Liège poet Albert Mockelpopularised the word in 1886 by making it the title of his symbolist journal, the Parisian success of which increased its influence.

Couverture de la première édition de « La Wallonie » © Province de Liège – Musée de la Vie wallonne

Cover of the first edition of “Wallonia”

At the same time, a literature in local dialect continued to be expressed more intimately throughout these eras. From the comic operas by Simon de Harlez (18th century) to the contemporary poets Willy Bal and Jean-Marie Kajdanski, not forgetting the 19th-century romantic writers such as Charles-Nicolas Simonon and Nicolas Defrêcheux, thousands of original works were produced in Walloon and Picard. In French, the regionalist movement that crossed Europe, manifested itself in Wallonia through the work of Jean Tousseul, bard of the Ardennes quarry workers, or Arthur Masson depicting rural life in the Ardennes.

Finally, while figures such as Hubert Krains and Maurice Des Ombiaux established themselves as strong supporters of the Walloon culture, Wallonia's French literature became internationally renowned with Charles Plisnier, the first non-French writer to receive the Prix Goncourt, or masters of the detective genre like Stanislas-André Steeman and Georges Simenon, the Liège-born father of the famous Inspector Maigret.

Georges Simenon (s.d.) – Photo Hubert Grooteclaes

Georges Simenon

Alongside actual literary production, Wallonia is famous for the decisive contribution of its grammarians to the description and proper use of the French language. Maurice Grevisse and Joseph Hanse are still the undisputed references in this subject.

Comics

Just as Wallonia was a pioneer in the field of detective novels, it was instrumental in bringing credibility to the ninth art. From 1929, in Tournai the Tintin albums were published by Casterman. Wallonia also features in the adventures of the famous reporter, Hergé being inspired in particular by Sart-Moulin, in the municipality of Braine-l'Alleud, to create Marlinspike Hall.

On the eve of the Second World War, Dupuis launched the weekly Spirou in the Charleroi region, the name of which means "squirrel" in Walloon. It would be the start of the Marcinelle school that would include Jijé, Jean-Michel Charlier and Victor Hubinon, authors of Buck Danny, Morris the creator of Lucky Luke and André Franquin, the creator of Marsupilami and Gaston Lagaffe. Peyo's Smurfs would also come from this school.

Marsupilami

Marsupilami

Elsewhere in Wallonia, other popular heroines such as Martine, Yoko Tsuno and Natacha were born of the pens of Marcel Marlier, Roger Leloup and François Walthéry. In another style, Hermann and Didier Comès also contributed to the affirmation of an art whose audience is constantly becoming more diversified.